‘Invisible crisis’ of child abuse going unchecked

More than 630 vulnerable young people were referred to councils’ children’s services every day in the months after the first lockdown, a survey by the County Council Network (CCN) reveals. 

CCN said councils saw a 15% increase in young people being referred for local authority support in the months of July, August, and September, compared to the three lockdown months prior when services and schools were closed.

Local authorities said they have seen demand for mental health and family services increase since the pandemic began, illustrating the emotional and financial impacts of the virus on households.

The survey showed that domestic abuse and neglect were the two main reason for referrals to children’s services over the lockdown and summer months.

While almost two-thirds of councils surveyed (64%) said that mental health during the pandemic, from both the parent and/or the child, was one of the top reasons for referrals over the last few months.

One council said it was receiving over 22 referrals a week due to mental health issues on average since the first lockdown ended – an increase of 96%. Alcohol or substance abuse was another major factor behind increasing referrals, the survey showed.

Cllr Keith Glazier, children and young people spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said:

‘The impacts of the pandemic will be far-reaching for all of us, and especially for young children who lost months of schooling but also safeguarding and support earlier this year.

‘Over that period, we feared an invisible crisis and that abuse and other issues were going unchecked behind closed doors and since the first lockdown has ended, we have seen a rise in referrals.

‘The emotional and financial trauma of the pandemic on families is clear to see in the referrals since the country started opening back up in the summer, with domestic abuse and neglect the two main reasons that our help is sought.

‘Worryingly, we are also seeing a rise in mental health concerns and alcohol abuse, both of which can be attributed to the impact of coronavirus.

‘As well as an increase in referrals councils are also facing the additional costs of the pandemic, with the vast majority forecasting significant overspends on their children’s services budgets this year.

‘This is why we urgently need the government to renew its Troubled Families programme, alongside targeted investment for children’s social care so we can give families the help and support they need.’

The survey also revealed that nine in 10 councils had projected an overspend on their children’s social care budget this year, which is for support and interventions for vulnerable young people.

As well as this new demand for support, councils say that Coronavirus has contributed to rise in costs for external and foster care placements for vulnerable children.  This is helping drive the overspend, alongside increased costs for staffing to cover shortages and those self-isolating

Their combined total of a £102m projected overspend comprises of pressures in family support, safeguarding, placements, and children who have been taken into council-arranged care. These services make up the majority, but not all, of councils’ children’s services departments.

Ahead of the Spending Review next week, CCN is calling on the government to renew its flagship Troubled Families programme next year, which is worth £165m to help councils address these emerging family issues as a result of the pandemic.

The network is also calling on the government to widen the scope of the programme with an increased pot so it can better embrace mental health support to prevent issues spiralling out of control and burdening the health service.

This must be alongside targeted investment in children’s services next year, which was seeing demand outstrip funding even before the pandemic struck.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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